Martin Speaks at Congressional Field Hearings and Site Visit

SACRAMENTO, 23 November 2009 – The Sierra Fund’s Chief Executive Officer, Elizabeth “Izzy” Martin, was an invited witness at recent Congressional field hearings on “Abandoned Mines and Mercury in California.”  The following day, November 24, Ms. Martin joined the Congressional staff for a tour of abandoned mine sites around Nevada County.  The hearings were convened by Congressman Jim Costa (20th District), chair of the House Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources.  Congressman Tom McClintock (4th District), also joined in the hearing as another subcommittee member. 

Ms. Martin spoke on the final of three panels that made formal statements as part of the hearing.  The first panel was composed of federal officials, the second was state officials, and the third was local and regional perspectives.  Ms. Martin’s presentation and powerpoint focused on the cultural, health and environmental impacts of mining on California.   (Click here for complete text of TSF’s formal comments or to view TSF’s PowerPoint presentation.)  She urged Congress to consider four key recommendations for action: 

  1. Increase Collaboration:   Support development of a Mining Toxins Working group that supports collaboration among tribal, federal, state and local governments and community members in addressing legacy mining issues.
  2. Fund Strategic Research:  Support development of pilot research projects that explore methods for reducing methylmercury, and exposure to other mining-related toxins such as arsenic in the Sierra Nevada watersheds. 
  3. Outreach and Education on Human Health:  Support regional medical education and public outreach on the impacts of legacy mining toxins on public health, including mercury.
  4. Direct and Fund Federal Programs:  Inventory and assess abandoned mines and their impacts on all lands, water projects, wetlands, reservoirs and other federal projects owned or managed by the federal government, and prioritize them for remediation. Reform the Federal 1872 Mining Act to require meaningful mitigation impacts from historic mining, and reform “Good Samaritan” laws to provide incentives for cleanup. Support implementation of Phase 2 of the CALFED Mercury Strategy.

Other witnesses included Jim Abbott, Acting State Director of the California State Office, Bureau of Land Management, Department of the Interior; Dr. Charles Alpers, Research Chemist, U.S. Geological Survey, Department of the Interior; Randy Moore, Regional Forester, Region 5, Pacific Southwest, US Forest Service, U.S. Department of Agriculture; Daniel Meer, Assistant Superfund Division Director, Region 9, Pacific Southwest, United States Environmental Protection Agency; Linda Adams, Secretary of the California Environmental Protection Agency; Arthur G. Baggett, Jr., Board Member, State Water Resources Control Board; Bridgett Luther, Director, California Department of Conservation; Supervisor Steve Wilensky, Calaveras County Board of Supervisors;  Bob Schneider,  Senior Policy Director, Tuleyome; and Julian C. Isham, Shaw Environmental Inc. and the Northwest Mining Association.

Copies of the written statements provided by witnesses are available here.

Field Trip
On November 24, Ms. Martin joined the Congressional staff for a tour of abandoned mine sites around Nevada County.  Also on the tour were staff and scientists from the Bureau of Land Management, US Geological Survey, US Forest Service, US Environmental Protection Agency, State Water Resources Control Board, and CA Department of Toxic Substances Control. 

As part of the tour Ms. Martin provided Congressional staff with insights into the impact of the large abandoned mines in and around communities where thousands of people live and work.  The tour visited a site on the South Yuba River with hydraulic mining sluice tunnels that had been remediated for chemical and physical safety hazards, demonstrating different methods of how the BLM remediates those hazards on public lands. 

The tour also featured a pilot project outside Nevada City where the State of California will be cleaning up the upstream site, Hoge Mine, while the BLM remediates the downstream tailings near the Davis Mill. The Davis Mill building is still intact and contains much of the mill equipment including the stamp battery.  The removal of the tailings and stabilization of the site will be funded by American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) federal stimulus money.